As local businesses work towards their final trading weekend before Christmas, ISME, the Irish SME Association today (17th December) highlights a story illustrating how farcically surreal our personal injuries regime has become, which was reported by the Limerick Leader. A Limerick schoolboy who received ashes on Ash Wednesday 2016 sued the school when the ashes remained visible for longer than the day or so they normally do. He settled with the school and their insurer for a sum of €5,000.
Commenting on the story, ISME CEO Neil McDonnell noted:
“While the practices of wearing ashes on the forehead on Ash Wednesday is strongly associated with the Roman Catholic Church, it is not unique to it. It is also conducted by many Protestant faiths and of Jewish origin.
One wonders, therefore, what going through the minds of the insurers who proposed the settlement, and the judge who approved it. It is highly unlikely that any of them are unfamiliar with the practice of applying ashes, and the fact that those ashes are intentionally visible for some time afterwards.
In any other common law jurisdiction in the world, a judge would have thrown out such a frivolous, vexatious claim without hesitation. The consensual participation in a religious ceremony in any other country could not result in a tort, without evidence of some pretty serious negligence.”
Mr. McDonnell continued:
“While of course we are unfamiliar with the facts of this case, it would strain credulity to say that the priest applying the ashes in this Limerick school was negligent in any way.
What will the parents of Jewish and Muslim boys circumcised in Ireland make of this settlement? Theirs is a far more permanent manifestation of religious observance than the day or so display of ashes that earned this boy €5,000.
No doubt there will be an attempt to blame the insurers or judiciary for this settlement as well, as happened last month. But, as was also reported this weekend, the Government refused to entertain a proposal from the Personal Injuries Commission (PIC) this year that Government should introduce a legislative cap on damages. The proposal was shot down by the lawyer-members of the PIC. The interests of the consumer were not even considered by the PIC. ISME sought membership of the PIC in order to represent the interests of the policy holders, but we were turned down.”
ISME calls on the Government to acknowledge the sense of urgency for businesses and consumers in addressing insurance costs that was recognised by Justice Kearns of the Personal Injuries Commission. There is no constitutional impediment to legislating a cap on damages. Minister of State Michael D’Arcy should set about doing so immediately, as his New Year’s resolution.